Kimi Raikkonen's NASCAR Nationwide Series debut didn't turn out as the former Formula One World Champion had hoped. As a result, it's possible his first Nationwide race could be his last.
The "Iceman" struggled to get his car to turn throughout the Top Gear 300 on a hot, steamy Charlotte afternoon – and grew increasingly frustrated as the race went on. When it was over, the Finland native was in 27th place, four laps down.
"It was nice in the beginning and I could overtake on the restart," he said. "But it really turned out to be really bad, the handling. ... Once it got difficult, you cannot race and you really try to survive through the corners. Up until that point, it was fun."
Was it fun enough for Raikkonen to return to America for more NASCAR racing after he returns to the World Rally Car circuit in Europe?
"I don't know yet," he said.
If that was the end of Raikkonen's NASCAR career (he ran last week's Truck Series race at Charlotte), it probably left a bad taste in his mouth. In addition to his handling struggles, he ran over a huge piece of debris that lodged under his car, hit the wall three times, struggled with hydration and found the car to be extremely hot (he complained of burning feet and legs that required him to keep them off the floorboard).
Still, Raikkonen's performance was very respectable. He had never even driven a Nationwide Series car before Charlotte and ran in the top 20 – on the lead lap – until his problems approaching the 3/4 mark of the race.
"You know how tough Charlotte is?" said his crew chief, Rick Ren. "He ran 15th on the lead lap in the Trucks, and we had a 15th-place car today – the finish doesn't show it, but that's how well he ran. I think he did a great job."
Ren said he was impressed with Raikkonen's car control, ability on restarts and overall effort. The driver picked up many of the NASCAR nuances during his short stay.
"It takes quite a few races to learn the terminology of a driver you can talk to and who's been doing this a long time," he said. "For having never even driven one of these things? He did a great job. He switched up his terminology to try to talk to me so I could understand him. He definitely put in a good effort."
Because of his heavy Finnish accent and unfamiliarity with the language of NASCAR, Raikkonen's radio chatter made for some entertaining listening.
"I don't understand how this car can be so hot," he said at one point. "My ass is even burning in here."
When his feet felt burned, he suggested the crew pour water on the floor – which wouldn't have been a good idea – and dryly joked he should perhaps drive with his foot out the window.
He didn't seem to like too much noise on the team radio, however. Raikkonen scolded Ren for shouting at a crew member ("Why are you shouting on the fucking radio?" he said) and his spotter for discussing an on-track incident with Ren ("Don't talk about other things on the radio," he said).
Raikkonen also made constant references to his drink bottle, which he emptied faster than the crew could refill it.
"I am out of the drink again," he said as the race dragged on. "It's so small. Make sure it's completely full, because it is too small."
Another time, he made his point much clearer: "I need my drinking bottle. HEY! Give me my drinking bottle!!"
The whole experience was interesting for not only Raikkonen, but NASCAR. Car owner Joe Nemechek (the car was built by Kyle Busch Motorsports but technically owned by Nemechek) even asked to pose for a picture with Raikkonen before the race.
Hopefully, for the sake of entertainment, the Iceman will cometh to NASCAR again.